It was a historic victory that caught both the victor and the vanquished off guard. Never in the history of democratic elections had a challenger thoroughly thrashed an incumbent as MuhammaduBuhari did Goodluck Jonathan on 28 March 2015.
Amazingly, the President elect who was making his third attempt at the high office appeared to be the greatest victim of his goodluck. His faulting first steps gave the impression that he was expecting to be pronounced the loser again as it happened in 2003 and 2011. His inability to assemble his own team in the executive branch, even for offices that did not need legislative approval was embarrassing even to his ardent supporters.
And then came the more tricky aspect of democratic governance as provided for in the 1999 Constitution – balancing the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The constitution assigns the role of making the laws of Nigeria to the legislature; the interpretation of such laws to the judiciary while responsibility for executing the laws goes to the executive.
In the campaigns that led to the election of 2015, Buhari’s top agenda and in fact his selling point was the war against corruption. The overwhelming support he enjoyed at the election was the perception by the electorate that he was Mr. Clean in an environment of filth. To be able to cleanse the society, he had to work hand in gloves with the law makers and the interpreters of the law.
Sadly, he demonstrated grave political naivety when he announced publicly that he was ready to work with whoever emerged as the leader of the legislature. He did not have to commit himself to that principle in that manner, not even at gun point. The harvest of our political experience under the presidential system is that the president cannot be indifferent to who emerges as the President of Senate – the leader of the legislature.
In 1979, ShehuShagari emerged as President after the elections. The Senate was however dominated by the four other political parties. If the four decided join forces and work against him, they would have crippled his government. That was how an idea was born of an accord with the NPP.
I have had the rare opportunity to discuss the process of reaching that accord with Wantaregh Paul Unongo, who as the NPP National Secretary General played a major role in fashioning out the accord. I have also discussed same with Dr. Joseph Wayas, who became Senate President and Chief Edwin Ume Ezeoke and Benjamin Chaha who became House Speakers.
What emerged from these discussions which are meant for a book I’ am writing is that ShehuShagari was an astute political tactician.He knew what he wanted and even as he operated from a disadvantaged position, he insisted on what he wanted and got it. He did not do this by shouting from the roof top. He embarked on quiet, clever diplomacy and political brinkmanship.
As an elected president, OlusegunObasanjo did not have the infinite patience nor political finesse of ShehuShagari. He had his own crude and militant ways. He installed Senate Presidents and removed them the way he changed his under wears. Dr. ChubaOkadigbo granted me his first exclusive interview after he lost the race to the Senate Presidency in 1999. What he told me off record reveals a lot about the extent to which Obasanjo can go indamaging those he disagrees with politically.
No elected president in Nigeria, more so one with a crucial election promise like fighting corruption should go home and sleep saying “let any Tom, Dick and Harry emerge as Senate President. I am ready to work with him.” Buhari made that fatal mistake and paid for it very dearly. Outwitted by Senator BukolaSaraki, he was caught flatfooted and his novel exercise of dragging the Senate president to court and putting him in a dock did not help matters. The horse had bolted out already. There was little use securing the gate.